Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! We’re still at the Rialla, still talking about marriage arrangements (and lack thereof), and we spend a day at the races.
So This Happens: Rohan at the Rialla juggles princely business (including the High Prince and a great deal of paperwork) and the inevitable and constantly vexed question of the High Prince’s daughters. Rohan is already tired of playing the idiot, a fact on which he ruminates for some time.
He ruminates for some time, as well, on Roelstra’s daughters, comparing each of them unfavorably to Sioned’s perfection. He is drawn to Pandsala and Ianthe, and finds he enjoys that part of it.
Roelstra breaks in on his reflections by hinting that Rohan should take all the princesses off his hands—which cools Rohan’s ardor considerably. Rohan focuses instead on manipulating Roelstra into signing additional stacks of documents, including one ordering a census of dragons. That leads to discussion of Rohan’s sole feat of dragonslaying, and circles back to the princesses again, and Rohan’s temptation to “do something about” his attraction for Pandsala and Ianthe.
Meanwhile, the other lords are free with their admiration for the redheaded Sunrunner, Sioned, and their hearty respect for Andrade. This segues into a discussion of the next day’s races, which Chay and his loyal steed Akkal are expected to win—and of Chay’s redoubtable and beautiful wife, who will not be pleased to see her husband taking such risks.
Not that that will stop Chay. They’re racing this year for jewels instead of money. Ianthe’s idea, Roelstra says.
After the gathering, Chay and Rohan go for a walk by the river. Chay taxes Rohan with his pretense of not being in love with Sioned, which anyone with eyes can see is false, while appearing to chase after Roelstra’s daughters. Chay declares that he had no idea about Rohan’s plan. “You’re smarter than I would have guessed.” Seeing as to how Chay knows him so well, the other lords must not have been able to guess at all.
Chay warns Rohan to be careful. The princesses won’t take kindly to rejection. They’ll find someone powerful to marry instead, and not only threaten Rohan, but “make Sioned’s life hell.”
That’s the danger, Chay points out. Zehava made sure Tobin had a life and occupations of her own. Sioned the Sunrunner has the same privilege. But Roelstra’s daughters have had nothing do all their lives but wait to be married, and through marriage to gain power.
Rohan confesses that Sioned told him the same, which leads to a further confession that he has been meeting with her in secret. Chay reveals another secret in return: that the Sunrunners have been watching Rohan under Sioned’s orders.
In fact Meath is watching him right now. Rohan calls him down from his hiding place and pretends to think Meath’s orders came from Andrade. Rohan charges Meath with watching over Sioned, a very clever and convoluted move, Rohan thinks.
Suddenly Meath shoves Rohan to the ground. Another Merida assassin has attacked. This time, the man bears the mark of Merida’s royal house, and he manages to wound Meath.
Rohan, Chay, and Meath discuss the meaning of this, and conclude that this is a warning, and an indication that Roelstra has hired Merida to assassinate Rohan. The goal: Tobin and Chay’s five-year-old son as Prince of the Desert. This has not occurred to Rohan before, or Chay, either. Now they realize it, they also realize that any heir Rohan has will be a Merida target from birth.
Rohan is safe here, they decide. There are so many people around that nothing can possibly happen. Rohan comes to the conclusion that Andrade’s plan for his marriage to a Sunrunner is meant to protect him against his enemies.
And I’m Thinking: This chapter is all intrigue, all the time, with a dash of action-adventure during the Merida attack. We get more Perfect Rohan So Perfectly Clever Nobody Can Ever Figure Out What He’s Up To (Except When They Can), and we get Rohan’s angle on the Princesses. Chay comes across as a bit boneheaded, and definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Even if the young and callow Rohan has never thought about what happens if Rohan dies without issue, the father of Rohan’s de facto heirs should have.
Rohan isn’t all that clever, despite us being told he is. He’s “stupid about women,” and he’s easily bored with his own brilliant plans. He doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson about nighttime walks by the river and Merida assassins, either.
But right in and around Rohan’s lack of sense about either women or politics is a powerful discourse about the plight of women in a patriarchal society. A woman given nothing to do or be in her own right will fixate on marrying power. Give her a life of her own and she has something else to do besides turn on the man who rejected her.
This is potent feminist stuff. In the Eighties we saw our mothers, mostly raised in the Fifties, trying to cope with being relegated to the status of wife without any other allowable outlet for their talents or ambitions (and that is why I lack the current nostalgia for the Fifties and Sixties—the dresses might be cute, but it was hell to be a woman with any intelligence or professional drive). I can hear echoes of that here. Clever Rohan may be no more genuinely so than Clever Hans, but the desire to show what women’s lives are like under the patriarchy is real, and the passion comes through.
So This Happens: A day at the races. Chay is racing on Akkal, but also is in it as a business proposition. Rohan does it for fun, and on impulse gives Ostvel a ride in the fourth race. He then takes his place in the stands with Andrade, amid a fair amount of teasing and the discovery that Tobin and Sioned are sitting in the stands with Roelstra’s daughters.
Chay wins the first race, not without some outrage at another competitor’s treatment of Akkal as well as his own horse, and manages to insult his groom in the aftermath. Amid further teasing, and badinage about the second race and Ostvel’s entry in the fourth, Rohan decides to enter a race himself.
A Prince is not allowed, Chay expostulates, and this Prince could get hurt, but Rohan ignores him. In the midst of this byplay, Princess Ianthe appears. After some brief back and forth, Rohan escorts her to the stands—in front of Sioned. Who he realizes anew is the only woman he wants.
Tobin is playing the idiot today, and Sioned is being remote. Rohan tries to engage Pandsala in conversation but is unsuccessful—and somewhat taken aback. “The notion that his clever self had almost been outsmarted by this girl both amused and irritated him.”
This gives Rohan the opportunity to compare Pandsala to Sioned and be sure all over again that he’s making the right choice. Andrade has set up her presence here, he thinks, to protect him against these dangerous princesses.
Rohan settles to watch the races and engage in small talk with the princesses. Sioned is icy, especially once she sees Ostvel mounted for a race.
Ostvel wins, of course. Rohan is smug. He’s set up Ostvel to win jewels as a wedding gift for Camigwen. “Being a prince was wonderful fun.”
This leads to badinage about jewels and princesses, during which Rohan makes no secret of the fact that he gave Sioned her emerald ring. Rohan ducks out before he can be pressed to tell the story of the Hatching Hunt, to watch the rest of the races from down by the rail until it’s time for his own race.
Rohan’s race is a cross-country race over rough terrain. The groom prepares him with a rundown on the course and the competition; then Rohan goes to the paddock to claim his stallion, Pashta. He has never ridden in a Rialla race, and has to calm an attack of nerves.
The view shifts abruptly to Sioned, who is horrified to see him in the race, as are the rest of the ladies. As the race begins, Ianthe tries to get Sioned to bet on Rohan in the race, but Sioned bets her emerald that neither Ianthe nor Pandsala will marry the Prince. Ianthe is furious, but accepts.
Sioned leaves her seat for the outer stands, and discovers that her emerald has magical powers. The viewpoint shifts again to Rohan, as Sioned follows his progress in the race.
The race is extremely dangerous, in extremely rough country, with an escalating number of casualties. Worse for Rohan, one of the riders is the Merida assassin—and he makes a move against Rohan.
Sioned perceives this magically, and sees the two Princes fighting. Rohan sees the Merida about to throw a glass dagger, but the dagger misses. The Merida acts as if he’s seen something terrible, and crashes into a fence.
The race continues with bloodshed, broken bones, and Pashta on the home stretch with only one horse in front of and then behind him. Rohan wins the race and the emeralds.
Sioned meanwhile recovers from her conjuring, realizing in horror that the Merida’s horse has gone down along with the rider. The horse gets up again, but the rider does not.
Tobin and the two Princesses run down to the paddock, with Sioned behind. Sioned can’t do any of the things she wants to do to and for Rohan, but Tobin can. Ianthe and Pandsala have their own touches to add, and Pandsala informs him that the Merida is dead of a broken neck, which is being investigated.
Sioned has killed a man with magic: “a thing absolutely forbidden, the worst thing a Sunrunner could do.” But Sioned did it, for Rohan.
Meanwhile Rohan tells Tobin that the man was a Merida, and tried to knock him off his horse in the race. Sioned manages to insert a carefully crafted criticism of Rohan’s un-Princely risk-taking, and Rohan taxes her with failing to congratulate him on his victory. There is teasing and badinage, and Sioned is studiedly cool.
After Chay wins another race and the nobles disperse to prepare for the evening’s banquet, Sioned escapes the crowd and the princesses to sit by the river and ponder what she has done—and think less than complimentary thoughts about Rohan and his family.
She realizes she is jealous of Roelstra’s daughters. Rohan is hers, and she swears to prove it.
She spins off from there into a long reflection on killing for this one man, breaking her vows, and whether it’s possible to reconcile such divided loyalties. Except they’re not divided. She belongs to Rohan. She has no choice. She wants no choice.
Rohan is her price. She is about to show the Princesses exactly what the truth is. “Rohan was hers; she had paid for him.”
Suddenly the High Prince appears, with seduction clearly in mind. Sioned decides to accept his invitation to “enjoy the moonlight,” in order to extract information that Rohan can use, and possibly find out about Roelstra’s renegade Sunrunner.
Roelstra continues his attempt at seduction, flattering her and not so subtly offering to take her as his mistress. It dawns on Sioned that he is dangerous. Roelstra presses his suit, advancing from flattery to outright seduction, and then to menace when she refuses him. He kisses her and leaves her.
Sioned realizes that he wants to use her for her faradhi—and so does Rohan. But Rohan loves her, and he has Andrade’s blessing. Sioned hates them all.
Rohan meanwhile is half-asleep in his tent, dreaming that Sioned has come to make love to him. But something is not quite right. He wakes to find Ianthe in his bed.
He throws her out. She is trying to trick him into dishonoring her, and therefore force him to marry her. He’s having none of it. He calls her whore, intending to distract the guards and cover up her escape, but a distraction has already materialized: a fire outside the tent.
That is no natural fire. He recognizes the Sunrunner on guard, even before he steps on the emeralds she left, impossibly, in his tent. Sioned defended him tonight. “May I always defend you as effectively, love.”
And I’m Thinking: There’s slam-bang action here, and some deft writing craft in the interwoven viewpoints of Rohan and Sioned during the race. Rawn is good with viewpoints, as she is with visuals. Her worldbuilding pays attention to the tiny details: geography, economics, legislation.
She sees horses as individuals, too. I like that she names them, and they have personalities. Here they’re as distinct as their riders, and in some cases more so.
I could wish that Team Stronghold wasn’t so very perfectly perfect and best of the best even when they’re coming in second. Bit heavy on the gas pedal there. It’s the same issue Rohan has—he’s so very perfectly perfect.
The Chosen Love theme is getting difficult, as well. Sioned does the worst thing a Sunrunner can do, but it doesn’t seem to be making a particularly deep dent. She does it, it’s for Rohan, she gets a little bit pissy about it, she moves on. She’s not terribly concerned about consequences—and that makes me go, Eh, what?
Roelstra’s missing more cues than he should, too, but he’s more in control of actual events than anybody else seems to be. Rohan says he is, but Roelstra shows it.
Sioned’s failure to realize he’s really, for real, dangerous points to a problem the whole Desert contingent has, along with the crew from Goddess Keep. They severely underestimate the opposition. They’re lolloping along blithely, bantering and teasing and chortling at their own cleverness.
They’re rank amateurs when it comes to intrigue, and I find myself wondering how they’ve survived to adulthood in a world that contains a whole tribe of royal assassins plus a demonstrably evil High Prince. Zehava seems to have had a clue, but for some reason it hasn’t sunk in on any of his family or vassals. Rohan things he’s oh so very clever, and Chay goes on about how dangerous and brilliant and powerful he is, but he’s not demonstrating it.
When affairs here take a turn for the sexual, I’m cheering Roelstra, again. Now there’s a character with a complex mind. He’s not just thinking south of the belt when he goes to seduce Sioned. He has a definite and clear-cut use for her. And she’s ripe for it, after what she’s done for her Fated Love.
That’s where the interest is, for me. The good guys are pretty much too dumb to live. The bad guys probably won’t win because the plot says they won’t, but I’m rooting for them anyway.
At the very least, it will be satisfying to see Rohan taken down a few dozen pegs. Here in 2014, we’ve come around to the sexy bad guy. The pretty-boy good guy is a bit out of fashion.
Judith Tarr’s first epic fantasy novel, The Hall of the Mountain King, appeared in 1986. Her YA time-travel science fiction/fantasy/historical novel, Living in Threes, appeared as an ebook from Book View Café in 2012, and will debut in print this fall. Her new novel, a space opera, will be published by Book View Cafe in 2015. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.